DJ and producer Raf Kuhn has been blessing us with dance-centric nightlife in NYC and Fire Island (ShareGurl! Rebecca! Spray! Pines Party!) for a minute now. As Someone From Berlin, he combines his experience with the best local DJ and hosting talent to deliver the uber-popular “UltraMaroon,” which is giving us all the wonderful Pride colors this month.
Thotyssey: Hello SfB, I understand you’re in Israel now! How is it, and what are you up to there?
Someone From Berlin: Well, both my parents immigrated to New York from Israel in the 60s, and I grew up flying back and forth once or twice a year. I try to come back once a year, since I have some good friends who live in the country… and I usually time it around when they celebrate Pride. So we’ve had a busy weekend. And there was even an unexpected Deborah Cox performance!
Amazing! And you’ve got a lot in store for NYC Pride when you return. I’m guessing Queer Israel sounds a lot different than Queer New York, as far as the dance floor goes.
I’d describe it as “chaotic good.” The energy here during Pride is great and the parties run on and on, if that’s what you’re looking for. There are a few options / alternatives as far as sound, but yes… the main event here is Offer Nissim in an outdoor park venue (that’s where Deborah showed up). I think something pretty great about where New York is going is the variety of programming, specifically during Pride, that other cities just can’t match. I’m of course extremely excited to be bringing a bit of content myself with our first UltraMaroon Pride party.
Did you grow up around music?
Yes… but 100,000% classical. Both my parents played the piano, and my dad the cello. They tried to get me to play the violin, cello and piano but nothing really stuck. When I went to college I actually got into theater direction, so I think my DJing came out of having an ear for music and a love for creating spaces and experiences that make participants feel something collectively. I didn’t start branching away from classical and discovering pop until middle school; my first albums were CrazySexyCool by TLC and Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morrissette.
When did you start DJing… and how did your DJ name come about?
So I’m one of the gays behind ShareGurl on Fire Island, which was an app turned hospitality company that ultimately rebranded and ran the Hotel in the Pines. One of the things we decided to do as a marketing tactic was throw small daytime parties almost every week, because to us the pool party is the heartbeat of the Island experience. My business partner bought a set of decks, and I decided I needed to know how to use everything… so I downloaded the mp3 of “Acapella” by Kelis and started fucking around with the CDJs.
Turns out my roommate at the time, Scott Martin, was a DJ… and once I started figuring out what I liked and didn’t like, we realized that our sounds were compatible. We became a pair of sorts, playing back to back under the name “Rebecca” (don’t ask… but we have some photos in wigs) all over Fire Island and periodically in the city. We started UltraMaroon together in 2018 as a project to create a space for house music, cocktails and community in NYC, and our small party was doing fine with some die hard regulars sticking around.
The pandemic changed a lot: I decided to adopt a pseudonym rather than DJ under my name to create some separation between the projects in my life… and Scott moved to LA. I picked Someone From Berlin in a moment of silliness. I’m not from Berlin. It’s a bit of a “who’s on first” joke.
UltraMaroon has really evolved into a fan favorite party at the Blue Midtown. Before we mention the upcoming events that won’t be there, how might you describe that vibe… and in general, what a night at UltraMaroon sounds like?
We created UltraMaroon as a music-first space for the community to convene. So one thing you’ll notice if you’re observant is that the team (hosts and staff) makes a point of welcoming everyone, thanking people for coming, and checking to make sure people are having a good time. What difference does that make? I think it’s pretty clear that when you walk through that weird Jewish Steakhouse bar area and down the stairs, you immediately see people smiling, chatting and dancing. We have everyone from femme genderqueer in women’s bathing suits to muscle boys who like to show off their tits…and everyone mixes together with ease. The party is also designed so that there’s something for everyone: the first 90 minutes is a happy hour vibe, usually with an up and coming DJ. The second 90 minute block is the first “turn up” where people can get their dance fix, and still decide to exit without ruining their Monday.
The rest of the night is for the troopers, and honestly it’s become a really magical dance floor. The highest praise we’ve gotten from some community elders is that the crowd and the vibe remind them of peak clubbing in the 90s, when people would just get lost in the music and the crowd. Honestly it’s really become something special, and there’s no way we could’ve done it without the unique combo of personalities across the staff, performers and hosts; everyone believes in the project, and that’s the secret sauce.
On Pride Thursday, UltraMaroon is bringing the party to a different environment… the DL Rooftop! DJs Morabito, Steven Redant (aka BlueAnt), Lupe Fuentes and Joe D’Espinosa will be taking turns in the booth. What can the children expect?
Well firstly, it’ll be more than just those wonderful DJs (and me, of course) — we are also inviting back some of our openers from this past season to play pop-up sets. We’re talking something like nine performers in total across the three sound areas. You might say “isn’t that a bit excessive?” And…yes it is! But isn’t excess the point!? We wanted to create a Pride event for us, by us, and celebrate what we have created together over the course of our third season. What better way than to try and bring back as many hosts and performers as we could? We have great presales, so I think our regulars will be joining in the fun, too. It’s gonna be a good night!
Looking ahead to July, you’ll be at The Pines Club on Fire Island on the 2nd (Saturday) for a To Wong Foo-themed benefit party called “Red & Wild,” along with DJs Steven Redant and Lupe Fuentes. What might be in store for us then?
I spent a few years producing “Spray Fire Island,” an August beach party in the Pines that ran from 2015 to 2019, and over time I developed a really solid friendship and working relationship with both Steven and Lupe. I’m really pleased to be able to reconvene the team, and even more excited to collaborate with long time friend Guy Smith to bring a new spin to his 20-year running “IndepenDance” party.
This year, we decide to go quite silly with a thematic celebration of To Wong Foo. We’ll be taking inspiration from the film for our décor and performances, pairing it with quality music (since that’s the core of the UltraMaroon brand) and layering Guy and Free Radical Design Group’s amazing production skills. We are also thankful to have the support of Kevin Cuenca from Froot Falls for this one, and will be donating our net proceeds to a set of queer nonprofits on and off the island, including AthleteAlly.
And then on July 23 you’ll be back on FI for one of the summer’s most epic queer benefit events.. the Pines Party! We can catch you with DJs Rimarkable and Joe D’espinosa spinning the Saturday pool party.
That’s right! This will be our third year producing MANEA, the pool party portion of Pines Party, and I’m so pleased to be bringing Rimarkable back after her amazing performance in April at UltraMaroon. I think it’s also important to make sure people know that even though tickets are expensive, the party is accessible to anyone who wants to be there…as long as you participate a bit! We need volunteers to help us build the party and staff the bar. So if any of your readers want to be there but are having sticker shock, head over to [the Pines Party volunteer registry] and make sure to note that you wanna hang with us at the MANEA pool party!
Anything else to tell us?
I’d just say…head over to [UltraMaroon’s site], check out what we’re up to, and come play along! If you like our vibes, also check out my SoundCloud where there are live recorded sets from past events and a few edits that I put together and drop periodically.
Excellent! Okay, to wrap this up: what’s your best advice for a baby DJ who wants to break into NYC queer nightlife today?
…I’ve been noodling about this for a minute, actually! One of the things we’ve tried to do is give newer DJs a platform to play freely on the early side of our parties, and it’s great to see them continue to be booked and blessed!
I’d say: (1) Show up to parties you like on the regular, and don’t be afraid to say you’re looking for opportunities to play; (2) download your music, don’t use streaming services; (3) DJ sober — remember that you’re working! A few drinks is fine, but don’t be twisted on the decks; (4) get your reps in. And (5) “blessed and booked” is ideal, but don’t overextend yourself to the point where you’re overbooked… because it’s hard to DJ sober if that’s your schedule!
Words of wisdom all around! Happy Pride, Raf!